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Manitoba premier faces lengthy return home in event of emergency: travel experts

Premier's emergency return could be lengthy

WINNIPEG — Staff say Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister will catch a commercial flight home if an emergency arises while he is at his vacation property in Costa Rica, something travel experts say could take more than a day because of flight connections.

Pallister has said he plans to spend six to eight weeks a year, not all at once, at his vacation home. Any time he is away, deputy premier Heather Stefanson serves in his place with full authority and, if she is absent, Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen steps in.

"In the event of an emergency, the premier has already indicated he would return to Manitoba regardless of whether he was away on business or on personal travel," Olivia Baldwin-Valainis, Pallister's communications director, wrote in an email.

"His orders and guidance would be able to be received by either phone or the email designated for this purpose and he would be on the next flight home. The acting premier would continue to perform all of his duties, including the signing of any document, until his return."

There are no direct commercial flights between Winnipeg and the two major international airports in Costa Rica. A one-way trip involves at least one connection — sometimes two — in cities such as Toronto, Minneapolis, Chicago or Houston. 

"I doubt if he could get back on the same day," Carmine La Rosa, owner of Fort Rouge Travel, said Wednesday.

"Very often ... you have to have an overnight (stopover) in one direction," added Ron Pradinuk, a former travel agency owner who now writes about travel.

"It's simply because of the connections from Winnipeg."

The Opposition New Democrats said the distance between Pallister's vacation home and his job is worrisome.

"Whether it's a physical emergency like a flood or some kind of disaster, or whether it's an economic disaster ... we need a full-time premier who's engaged," NDP justice critic Andrew Swan said.

"I don't think it's reasonable to expect that anyone else in his government has the actual authority, even if they have the legal authority, to make those decisions and to give those directions."

Former NDP premiers Greg Selinger and Gary Doer had vacation homes just across the Manitoba-Ontario boundary, Swan said, which meant they were "two, or at most three, hours away" from the legislature.

Pallister has said he is accessible at all times in Costa Rica by phone. He rarely, if ever, uses email but says he has email access in Costa Rica and can receive documents electronically in the event of an emergency.

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press